Ghosts***** (Almeida Theatre, 11 October 2013)

Posted: October 12, 2013 in Theatre

photo-94It is remarkable to realise that a play that delves into infidelity, illegitimacy and the effects of inherited syphilis, and includes suggestions of incest and euthenasia, could have emanated from the late 19th Century, but this is that play. Richard Eyre directs his own new translation of Henrik Ibsen’s work, having streamlined it to a mere 90 minutes with no interval. Eyre’s approach means that the neatly ordered world that we see at the beginning of the play disintegrates completely in a very short and continuous time span, seemingly during the course of one evening. So, suspension of disbelief is essential. However, once that hurdle has been cleared, the rewards are enormous, because this condensed version delivers drama of a rare intensity, culminating in a shattering climax. Eyre’s next masterstroke is the casting of the magnificent Lesley Manville in the lead role of Helene Alving, who describes her home as “a university of suffering”. Her heart-rending performance is complemented well by Jack Lowden as her doomed son, but not so well by Will Keen, who is slightly unconvincing as the oily and hypocritical Pastor Manders. Beyond the acting, the production is impressively mounted; a beautiful set, predominantly dark green with translucent walls, is half lit to suggest a bleak Norwegian Winter during which the sun hardly ever shines. Here is a place that readily invites the ghosts of past misdemeanours to return and destroy the present. This is a top class production, brave and powerful.

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